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Administration, District Appeal Pledge Ruling

The Bush administration has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the inclusion of the words "under God" in school-led recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance.

The administration joined the Elk Grove Unified School District in California last week in seeking review of the controversial federal appeals court ruling that school recitations of the pledge, as amended by Congress to 1954 to add the words "under God," were a violation of the First Amendment's prohibition against a government establishment of religion.

Theodore B. Olson

"Whatever else the establishment clause may prohibit, this court's precedents make clear that it does not forbid the government from officially acknowledging the religious heritage, foundation, and character of this nation," said the appeal filed April 30 by Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson in U.S. v. Newdow (Case No. 02-1574).

A three-panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled 2-1 against the pledge last year in a challenge brought by Michael A. Newdow on behalf of his daughter, who is a student in the 52,500- student Elk Grove district. In February, the panel issued a revised ruling that struck down the pledge only as led in public schools, retreating from its earlier opinion that appeared to strike down the 1954 version.

The administration's brief argues that "it is untenable that a national Pledge of Allegiance to a national flag would have a different content depending on the judicial circuit in which it is uttered."

Mr. Olson suggested that the 9th Circuit opinion was so wrong that the justices may wish to summarily reverse the ruling without hearing arguments in the case.

The justices will probably reach a decision on whether to accept the appeal before the end of their current term in late June.

—Mark Walsh

E-Rate Reveals Awards For 2003 Program Year

Letters were to go out May 1 informing school districts of the first $181 million in federal E-rate support for telecommunications for the 2003 program year, which begins July 1, according to officials of the Universal Service Administrative Co.

The wave of nearly 14,000 letters are for so-called "Priority 1" telecommunications services, such as charges for telephone service and Internet access.

For the first time, those decisions are being announced before all funding decisions have been wrapped up for the ongoing funding year, 2002.

Reviewers at USAC, the nonprofit company appointed by the Federal Communication Commission to run the education-rate program, are still considering the most complicated applications for 2002, involving wiring projects to help school systems serving some of the nation's poorest students connect classrooms to the Internet.

So far, for the 2002 year, the agency has reduced or denied applications to the tune of about $1.7 billion for various reasons, including waste, fraud, and abuse, officials say. The FCC recently announced new steps to deter abuses in the program. ("FCC Moves to Purge Corruption From E-Rate," April 30, 2003.)

—Andrew Trotter

Mass. Move on Aid Rejected by Paige

Secretary of Education Rod Paige has rejected a request from Massachusetts state officials for blanket approval for students who fail the state high school graduation test, but have a "certificate of attainment," to be eligible for federal college aid.

The state had sought an exception to federal requirements for aid eligibility for the estimated 6,000 seniors in the state who have passed all high school requirements except the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exit test.

But in an April 16 letter to David P. Driscoll, the state commissioner of education, Mr. Paige said the Massachusetts proposal failed several regulatory requirements, including one that requires evidence that students with alternative certificates have a success rate in college that is within 95 percent of the success rate of those with full- fledged high school diplomas.

"If, after one or more years of using the process outlined in your proposal, you are able to demonstrate [such] a success rate ... , you may wish to resubmit your application for an alternative state process," Mr. Paige said.

Federal department officials stressed that students without high school diplomas can still become eligible for federal student aid by passing the General Educational Development test or an approved "ability to benefit in college" test.

—Mark Walsh

Dept. Improves Rating On Informing Public

The Department of Education, dead last a year ago in a closely watched ranking of how well federal agencies inform the public, jumped to the middle of the pack this year.

According to the fourth annual analysis of key government reports as evaluated by researchers at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University, the department ranks 12th among 24 federal agencies and departments. The Fairfax, Va.- based center examined a series of financial, management, and planning reports for 2002 that each of the federal agencies must submit each year.

"It is important to emphasize that our research team evaluated only the quality of reporting, not the quality of results," the report says, adding italics for emphasis.

The Education Department scored in the "fair" to "acceptable" range on the center's three measures: transparency, public benefits, and leadership.

"Clearly, we're making progress in being a more accountable federal agency," agency spokesman Dan Langan said last week.

The center ranked the Department of Labor first. Bringing up the rear: the Department of Defense, which tallied a particularly low score for transparency.

—Ben Wear

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